A Former Philadelphia Teacher-Leader’s Thoughts on School Discipline

by Rick Ryder

As a retired Philly teacher and teacher leader, I have 40 years experience in the evolution of school discipline. Although I was fortunate in that I personally had minimal class control problems, I have coached, trained and supported literally hundreds of teachers, those with years of experience and those just beginning. It is clear to me as I see talented, caring, dedicated, and creative teachers driven from the profession because their students say and do whatever they wish with no actual consequences, that the discipline code must be revised.

Paslay’s final three paragraphs summarize the problem as well as I have ever seen (“Less than ‘zero tolerance,’” Inquirer opinion, 1/27/11). We can either turn schools into social service agencies where diplomas are awarded regardless of attendance or academic achievement, or we can refocus on learning and academics, which requires that the two or three students in most classes who impede instruction be removed until their behavior and/or motivation no longer hinders those who actually wish to learn. Unfortunately, this cannot often be achieved by a three day suspension followed by a reinstatement and return to class disruption.

I believe that the needs of the vast majority of students who wish to learn outweighs the rights of the few who act with impunity. The consequences of the current policies are tragic and ironic.  When students who do no work pass a class because a CSAP form isn’t filled out properly, when an emotionally disturbed special education student is mainstreamed to fulfill an IEP, curses out a teacher and is back in class 20 minutes later, students who would do classwork and behave properly, decide that, in the absence of consequences, they, too, will not do classwork or respect the teacher. Ironically, those educators who think that they are helping students get a second chance are actually taking away any chance of success from the majority.

Mr. Paslay is exactly right when he says we must decide the purpose of our schools. If it is indeed to educate, teachers must be given the tools to deal with disciplinary issues, rather than burdened by useless paperwork which goes nowhere and does nothing other discouraging teachers from taking any disciplinary actions at all. If it is to socialize or teach conflict resolution, we should acknowledge that, and set up a parallel system where true learning can occur and consequences are enforced.

 I am not addressing criminal behavior such as selling drugs, bringing drugs to school or assaulting a teacher. These are being handled properly, or at least, enforced more stringently than in the past. I am writing about the make or break issues of the teacher controlling a classroom and a student who does not do the required classwork passing a class. I loved my career as a teacher, formed strong bonds with many, many students, and hope to see that experience possible for the current generation of teachers.

Less than ‘zero tolerance’

“The Philadelphia School District’s zero-tolerance discipline policy is having a ‘devastating’ effect on students, particularly minorities, according to a recent report by Youth United for Change, the Advancement Project, and the Education Law Center. The authors of the report claim that students are punished too harshly for minor infractions, which makes city schools less safe and lowers students’ academic performance.

A quick look at the district’s Code of Student Conduct, however, shows that by most standards, it’s quite tolerant.”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Less than ‘zero tolerance'”.  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

MTV’s ‘Skins’ Peddles Soft Porn to Minors



by Christopher Paslay


MTV is at it again.  In their quest to make millions by pushing the boundaries of decency and self respect, the television network that long ago aired music videos recently premiered its series “Skins,” a racy show about the lives of nine high school friends stumbling through adolescence.  The glorification of sex, drugs, and a general lack of moral character are the hook that brought in over 3 million viewers during its début episode.


A quick visit to their website will reveal how its producers are exploiting America’s addition to sex by repackaging soft-core pornography and selling it to minors.  Only their attempt to cross the boundaries between the XXX adult world and the “TV Mature Audience” world may have gone too far.


The Parents Television Council is urging a boycott of the new show, and there have been talks of a criminal investigation to determine if MTV has broken any child pornography laws, being that some of the actors on Skins are as young as 15; Taco Bell, concerned about inappropriate content, pulled its advertising from the show.


Aside from accusations of criminal behavior, Skins will no doubt serve to further desensitize teens to gratuitous sex and drug use, and will only have a negative influence on attention-spans.  Imagine trying to teach Shakespeare to a class of thirty 15-year-olds who are hopped-up on a healthy serving of Skins?


MTV’s exploitation of minors is nothing new.  On January 30th, 2007, I published a commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer headlined, “Trashy Teen Novels Glorify Bad Behavior”.  This article, nearly four years old to the day, raised the same concerns about MTV that parents, prosecutors, and advertisers are making today.


Below is the article.  It’s similarity to the MTV Skins controversy is quite curious.


Recently, I was in the teen section of a large bookstore skimming books for my 10th grade English class when I came across the young adult novel Beautiful Disaster by Kylie Adams. Captivated by its provocative cover—a dripping wet, bikini-clad blonde relaxing on the side of a swimming pool—I opened the book and began reading.

Within a dozen pages I was introduced to a cast of characters so unscrupulous and trashy that I thought I was reading a romance novel by Danielle Steel. The only difference, of course, is that all the characters in Beautiful Disaster were minors. Their ages ranged from 15 to 17, but this didn’t keep them from binge drinking, swearing, using illegal drugs, and engaging in promiscuous sex; one of the characters, a 15-year old girl named Shoshanna, actually had breast implants.

As if the book’s content wasn’t shocking enough, I then stumbled upon Gossip Girl, the first book in a scandalous series by Cecily von Ziegesar. Like the characters in Beautiful Disaster, the teens in Gossip Girl have a passion for sex, lies, and expensive booze. The excerpt on the book’s back cover best summed-up their lack of decency: “Welcome to New York City ‘s Upper East Side , where my friends and I live, go to school, play and sleep—sometimes with each other.”

Over the past five years, teen fiction has taken a nosedive right into the toilet. MTV Books, a joint venture between MTV and Pocket Books, seems to be on the forefront of the downward spiral. MTV Books has no qualms about using sex and violence to win over the attention spans of children. Although some of my colleagues feel this is an even trade-off because it keeps 16-year-old students interested in reading, I feel it is completely irresponsible.

For starters, publishers don’t have to corrupt minors to win their readership. There are many ways to get teens interested in reading—it just takes a little bit of time and creativity. Second, 16-year-olds aren’t even the ones reading these trashy books to begin with.

As a high school English teacher, I get a good perspective on what’s hot when it comes to young adult fiction. I see what books my students read and what they dump in their lockers, and it’s everything from test-preparation manuals to Japanese graphic novels to fantasy. From my experience, most 16-year-old students wouldn’t be caught dead reading anything within the “teen” genre. High school kids are too cool, too grown-up for teen books.

Upper classmen are getting ready to head to college or go off to work, and they have little tolerance for the fairytale crushes and catty gossip found in most contemporary young adult books.

It is the middle school students, ages 11 to 13, who are reading the teen genre. They’re the ones picking up books like Beautiful Disaster or Gossip Girl in order to see what it’s really like to be a teenager in high school. Of course, what they read isn’t real at all. It’s a lot of superficial nonsense, a make-believe world filled with steamy sex, vodka bongs, and pool parties. It’s a fantasy land where 15-year-old girls get breast implants and drink martinis on South Beach (on the back cover of Beautiful Disaster, in her author photo, Kylie Adams is shown drinking a martini).

The sad part is that adolescents really want to fit in; they want to be accepted by the popular crowd. Although teen fiction may not be a direct cause of teen violence and suicide, I do believe it has an impact.

The material found inside books such as Gossip Girl and Beautiful Disaster undoubtedly produce sexual frustration in hormone-laden young readers. The question is: How do young readers end up venting such frustration? Not by having sex in some luxury hotel with a beachfront view, I can tell you that. A more realistic scenario probably involves a over-eager boy stalking a female classmate by making unwanted sexual advances, or sending her obscene text-messages. 

It’s time to clean up young adult fiction.

Publishers of contemporary teen books should stop peddling soft porn to minors, and go back to promoting storylines with substance and moral character.



YUC Report Uses Questionable Methodology

by Christopher Paslay


Discipline policies in Philly schools turn innocent youth into criminals.  Metal detectors cause children to break rules.  Removing violent and disruptive students from classrooms lowers achievement and makes schools less safe. 


These are just three of the many outrageous conclusions drawn in Youth United for Change’s recent report entitled Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia: Denying Educational Opportunities and Creating a Pathway to Prison.  In a nutshell, the study absolves chronic rule-breakers of basic responsibility for their own behavior and portrays violent and unruly students as powerless victims caught in an oppressive disciplinary system.


Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this “report” is its methodology.  As its authors noted on more than one occasion in the study, the Philadelphia School District did not release the actual case records detailing the causes behind student suspensions, expulsions, arrests, and referrals to alternative school placements; much of this information is protected under state privacy laws. 


So without any hard data or actual facts on the reasons why students were disciplined in the first place, United Youth for Change, in conjunction with the Advancement Project and the Education Law Center, piecemealed their report together by surveying several hundred random Philadelphia school students; they did not adequately consult school administrators, or disciplinarians, or anyone with objective firsthand knowledge of district discipline policies.


Interestingly, a number of the students interviewed just happened to be the very disgruntled rule-breakers facing discipline actions by the district.  More disturbing was the fact that some of the students who provided testimony for the study were actually YUC members!  Talk about having zero regard for research ethics and integrity.


Tragically, what the YUC report doesn’t reveal is that the true victims in this situation (other than the YUC members who’ve been indoctrinated by unscrupulous adults) are the cooperative students who make-up 85 to 90 percent of Philadelphia public schools, those diligent, hard-working students whose educations get compromised on a daily basis by the violent and disruptive actions of the incorrigible few. 


The question is, who’s looking out for their rights?  Who’s teaching these children that in order to become truly empowered, they must become drivers on the road of life and not get tricked into remaining powerless passengers


Apparently, no one associated with YUC or this unethical, misguided report.   


Our least-consulted experts on education

“The Philadelphia School District is facing a projected $430 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year. As a result, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has asked her administrators to prepare contingency plans for a massive budget cut. There will undoubtedly be a significant impact on students and staff in the city’s schools.

To soften this impact, administrators could ask teachers what support they need in classrooms and what they can do without. Teachers are ultimately held accountable for student learning, so it would make sense if they were consulted on the budget overhaul.”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Our least-consulted experts on education”.  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay